The character of a community is largely determined by its past residents' response to change. In some places, community members came together to define common goals and engage in evidence-based debates to formulate the best path forward.
These communities, like Detroit and Durham, become vibrant, inclusive and sustainable places to live. In some places, like Cherokee, N.C. and Madison, Ill., a small group of leaders took their constituents down a path without building consensus. In these places, residents remained too fearful of change to face it, or were unyielding in their preferred vision of the future and could not engage in good faith debate to arrive at a common path.
Today, we are the stewards of Carrboro’s future. The Carrboro community must address the changes it currently faces so it can remain both inclusive and sustainable for future residents. The people I’ve talked to in Carrboro, including leaders in our town’s government, point to three significant issues that stand out and need to be addressed. These issues are changes in the town’s housing requirements, creating a sustainable, growing economy and the political culture in which our town exists. In many ways, these issues are intertwined.
The Orange County Living Wage Commission — which Susan Romaine has done an outstanding job to spearhead — conducted a study that found that only 25 percent of the people who work in Carrboro and Chapel Hill can afford to live in the area in which they work. This identifies two challenges: providing affordable housing for a greater number of current and future residents and bolstering our business community so that we attract higher-wage jobs.
Addressing both of these challenges would enable people to work where they live and produce great benefits as fewer people leave town to get to their jobs, and the people that work here naturally support the businesses that are already established. Initiatives to address these challenges would truly produce a rising tide that raises all boats.
Carrboro’s town website establishes our common goal of “providing opportunities for safe, decent and affordable housing for all of our citizens, no matter income level.” The steps the town has taken to achieve this goal, which include an affordable housing commission and zoning policies that promote housing at all income levels, are admirable and important. However, there is still work to be done, as the most recent efforts relied on increases in residential property tax for their implementation. While admirable, this effort is not sustainable as these insufficiencies led to an incomplete adoption of solutions and a continued over-reliance on Carrboro’s already elevated property tax rate.
Achieving goals such as providing affordable housing and an economy that supports a diverse population requires greater community engagement. It is imperative moving forward that Carrboro devote more resources to its communication efforts with our residents.
Examples of efforts could be as simple as signage in neighborhoods when a topic that directly affects its residents are up for discussion, or a publication that is distributed on a regular basis. We are a small and tight-knit community, which should provide ample opportunities for all of the citizens of our town to have the awareness, opportunity and voice to help direct the actions of the town leadership.
Although our national political culture often suggests otherwise, we must recognize there are more than two answers to the challenges we face. In Carrboro, we must work to build consensus by giving all our residents a voice. With an update of our governance systems, future Carrboro residents will live in a vibrant town with sufficient housing for people of all income levels and a clear means of establishing their vision for the future.
After all, we inherited a great town because of the vision of our predecessors, and we are the stewards who must maintain Carrboro to ensure its future.